Friday, July 3, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road - A Carbon Crisis Allegory with Review by Guest Blogger Don Crandall

There have been a number of movies that I've wanted to review over the years that I felt could be deconstructed through the prism of Peak Oil awareness.  Previously I did write a blog post attempting to do that.  As my understanding of the interrelationship between Peak Oil and Global Warming increased to where I now refer to both as the Carbon Crisis, I became aware of just how disastrous this ongoing event could potentially become.  One of the more extreme apocalyptic scenarios would be if global warming affects our ability to grow food combined with oil depletion destroying our economy, civilization could collapse.  With the collapse of civilization, we face a severe nuclear threat, either intentionally (nuclear war) or accidentally (nuclear meltdown).

But no deconstruction is necessary where the Mad Max movies are concerned.  Since its inception with George Miller's 1979 classic Mad Max, we are set in a world teetering on the edge of collapse.  The only thing standing in the way of total lawlessness is one good cop, Max Rockatansky.  But when his best friend, his wife and his baby are murdered, Max goes over the edge in his quest to get revenge against an ultra-violent motorcycle gang led by the vicious Toecutter.  When we next see Max in the 1981 sequel The Road Warrior, what had been a civilization nearing total social breakdown is now a civilization no longer.  Why did this happen?  The opening narration paints a very vivid picture:

Narrator: My life fades. The vision dims. All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos... ruined dreams... this wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called "Max." To understand who he was, you have to go back to another time... when the world was powered by the black fuel... and the desert sprouted great cities of pipe and steel. Gone now... swept away. For reasons long forgotten, two mighty warrior tribes went to war, and touched off a blaze which engulfed them all. Without fuel they were nothing. They'd built a house of straw. The thundering machines sputtered and stopped. Their leaders talked and talked and talked. But nothing could stem the avalanche. Their world crumbled. The cities exploded. A whirlwind of looting, a firestorm of fear. Men began to feed on men. On the roads it was a white line nightmare. Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive. The gangs took over the highways, ready to wage war for a tank of juice. And in this maelstrom of decay, ordinary men were battered and smashed... men like Max... the warrior Max. In the roar of an engine, he lost everything... and became a shell of a man... a burnt-out, desolate man, a man haunted by the demons of his past, a man who wandered out into the wasteland. And it was here, in this blighted place, that he learned to live again.

Sounds a lot like the Carbon Crisis with perhaps a bit of nuclear war?  This is the background for the milieu of Mad Max, which continued in 1985 with Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.  The whole trilogy is an allegory for our darkest fears about where the Carbon Crisis is collectively taking us.  I always felt that out of all the trilogy series of movies that came out around the 1980s (Star Wars, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones), Mad Max was the darkest and grittiest.  When I found out that after 30 years a new sequel was coming out, I was curious but felt a bit cautious about getting too excited.  I've been burned before by some legendary names: Steven Spielberg, who single handedly coined a "jump the shark" colloquialism for movie series with "nuke the fridge" through his resurrection of the Indiana Jones franchise with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and George Lucas, who did an entire prequel trilogy for Star Wars that is inferior to the original trilogy on every conceivable level.

Fortunately, Mad Max: Fury Road does not disappoint.  I'll let my friend Don Crandall guest blog the review, as his words reflect my feelings:

I have hope for the future of cinema again.  This film is lovingly made for old school (or is it old fart?) movie fans like me, and is done "80's style" in many ways. It's a return to the greatness that made me want to write scripts & move to Hollywood when I was a kid. By "80's style," I mean it's not the ADD generation's churned out, CGI heavy, tell-don't-show, even-good-movies-have-plot-holes-today kinda piece. There's none of that here (well, there is the one scene in the nuclear storm that's CGI, but it looks beautiful.) I was struck hard with a nostalgia that I haven't felt since the 80's, and for some scenes I had to contain giggling like a giddy child. It's cinematic bliss.

Writer / director George Miller returns to the Mad Max world without missing a beat, unlike others (Lucas, Spielberg, etc) who have botched their own franchises lately. Many reviewers never saw the original 3 films, but they still love this flick, so you don't need to see the old ones. I'd liken it to James Bond, where we now have a new lead actor, and everything's been updated just enough, but it's still a continuation. I'd say the Mad Max films did for modern action & car chase movies what Star Wars did for Sci Fi, and it's so refreshing to now have another worthy film in the canon, perfect in every way.

I am sensing that very young people may have trouble with the throwback film techniques that today's films have sadly abandoned, things like: establishing tracking shots, long continuous takes to pull the viewer into the scene, action servicing the story instead of being tossed in, practical special effects with next to no CGI, naturally unfolding narrative instead of piles of exposition, no forced humor, etc. I had lost hope I'd ever see these long missed techniques in a big summer movie, but here it is, and it's been sorely missed. Many reviewers are saying it's as if 70 year old veteran George Miller is telling filmmakers like Michael Bay, "This is how it's done, Son."

About all this "feminism propaganda" talk... Is it feminist? You bet, and that's a good thing. We're talking Sarah Connor from T2, Ripley from Aliens iconic stuff here. Are all men evil in the film, and all women good? Mostly, but that didn't bother me (and it's kinda true, sadly.) You can get that I'm plugging Charlize here, who is the real star of the film. As terrific as Tom Hardy is as Max, Charlize as Furiosa is even better. The film does start out pretty sexist toward women, then slowly redeems itself, and does a 180 (pun intended,) and becomes a superb piece about action heroines (yes, plural.) Hint, hint, take your lady friend to this one!

The car chases and "vehicular action" are the best ever filmed. Truly, the best. And I'll stress "filmed," not cooked up in cyberspace CGI. There's more action in this one film than all 3 of the other Mad Max's put together. One reviewer stated, "It makes Fast & the Furious look like a Hot Wheels commercial." Is it one long car chase like everyone says? Not a continuous one, but it is an overall pursuit storyline (like Han & Leia's story half in Empire'.) Of course George Miller knows the audience needs a few breathers, and here's where the story & character development the Oscar caliber director and stars shine. Here's also where anyone younger than 30 might shuffle in their seats, as witness by our friend Eric. I've always considered the Mad Max films the "art house" version of a "grind house" movie, and they're clearly foreign films. This new one is in perfect sync with the others.

Fury Road's over the top, bat shit insane in many ways, from the relentless, jaw dropping stunts and car action to the "world building" of costumes, sets, props, etc. But it doesn't overwhelm you or make you car sick, because you'll savor every shot on screen, every performance, and that wonderful score by Junkie XL (I know, WTF is up with that name?) Many reviewers have used the word "beautiful" to describe the chaos and insanity on screen, and that's accurate. Like the (at least first two) other Max films, this one's a work of art, lovingly crafted, long gestated (I guess the closest thing we've had to this opus in a while is Avatar.)

For the first time in ten or more years, I can proudly say I honestly loved a film with zero reservations, found zero plot holes, was completely immersed without the distraction of CGI, and best of all, felt like a kid again for 2 good hours.

To Don's review, I only want to add my observations I shared with him earlier regarding the allegorical perspective:

I saw it in beautiful 2D and from my perspective, this was a Road Warrior movie, taking place either sometime right before or right after chronologically.  There was definitely a similarity in tone with both Road Warrior and Fury Road right from the beginning; both have a similar narrative exposition.  I think I may have even liked the Fury Road expository material a little better as it really went into details that made it clear that this movie is a cautionary tale of a post-Peak Oil, post-global warming, post-nuclear war world.  All three crises come sequentially: first Peak Oil, ("Oil Wars") then global warming ("running out of water"? "Water Wars"? Must be pretty hot!) and then the nuclear coup de grace ("thermonuclear skirmish").

What's great, what's truly timeless about these movies, is that they will always be futuristic.  Always, that is, unless the horrifying fiction becomes our reality.  If that were to occur, there would be no more movies in what's left of society, storytelling would revert back to oral traditions.  What shape would oral traditions of storytelling revert to in a Western culture that has revered moviemaking for the last century?  The plots and characters may evolve into the myths that shape the new culture in a society struggling to survive.  In other words, Mad Max could become the Odysseus of a dystopian reality.  How does that thought strike you?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great article, A.J., with terrific support in the review by Don Crandall! I, too, was both excited and anxious about how the new Mad Max film might be, but alas, all fears slipped away as the entire film transported me into movie-watching heaven. Yes, these films serve to entertain us - and that they do near-perfectly - but there is a deadly serious caution within them, and we'd be more than foolish not to really take note.